Theatre review: What the Butler Saw starring Omid Djalili, Tim McInnerney and Samantha Bond

Omid Djalili and Tim McInnerny in What the Butler Saw. Picture: Simon Annand
Laugh-out-loud funny and completely outrageous, What The Butler Saw isn’t for sensitive souls or the easily offended.
The play, currently on a limited run at the Vaudeville Theatre, deals with gender politics, identity, sexuality, mental health and, as it features a star turn by Winston Churchill, politics.
What the Butler Saw was the final play written by Joe Orton, completed in July 1967. It’s impossible for me to talk about Orton without mentioning how he died – he was bludgeoned to death by his lover, who then proceeded to kill himself.
Set in a single day and in one room, What the Butler Saw follows a series of characters whose actions impact on one another in ways they never considered when the day started.
The play opens with psychiatrist Dr Prentice (Tim McInnerney) interviewing a new secretary by asking her to take her clothes off – and What the Butler Saw only gets stranger from there, especially as some of the characters get drunker and drunker, or drugged and more drugged.
There’s the adulterous Mrs Prentice (Samantha Bond – how does she look so amazing?!), her lover and blackmailer Nicholas Beckett, the curious policeman Sergant Match,  and government inspector and psychiatrist Dr Rance (Omid Djalili).
Djalili is very good, but very much the Djalili you’re used to seeing on television. Moments of high drama are emphasised by shouting, something which becomes ever more present the more manic the action on stage gets. Luckily for the actor the character of Dr Rance is exactly that – shouty and manic, and Djalili really works in the role.
What the Butler Saw focuses on some issues too taboo for everyday conversation, but does so by coating them in a layer of clever jokes and staging.

It’s not an exaggeration to say some parts of the play are truly hysterical, and the talented cast keep your attention throughout.
Tim McInnerny as Dr Prentice and Samantha Bond as Mrs Prentice. Picture: Simon Annand
Bond is brilliant as Mrs Prentice, and McInnerney manages to draw our sympathies while also making us outraged at his behaviour.
As the play continues, the action on stage gets more and more hysterical. It’s a physical comedy as well as a verbal one – the rushing around, the comic positioning of bodies, the constant flow of characters on and off stage, they all add to the enjoyment.

One of my favourite comic routines involved Dr Prentice hiding clothes belonging to the secretary in a tiny vase to prevent his wife who cheated on him from seeing them, and then having to pull them all out again later so his wife’s lover could wear them and pretend to be his secretary.
And your reaction after that paragraph (stunned, confused, wanting to laugh) is just how you’ll feel when you watch What the Butler Saw.
 
What the Butler Saw is at the Vaudeville Theatre until August 25. Click here for more information and tickets.

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